The Hill Op-Ed: Leadership and the Challenge of Climate Change

Joel Mintz

July 22, 2021

Recent events have dramatized the urgent need for prompt and bold action to respond to climate change. Raging rivers in Germany and Belgium, unheard of "heat domes" over large sections of North America, and uncontrolled wildfires and flooding around the globe, have made it absolutely clear that humankind must quickly limit the emission of greenhouse gases and adapt to the increasingly calamitous consequences of climate disruption.

In view of this situation, what is and ought to be the substance of environmental leadership? At the outset, it bears mention that no single environmental leader can take on the challenge of climate change alone. What is needed instead is cooperation among many leaders. Leadership must come from a number of places, including governments, private enterprises, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and concerned individuals.

Later this year, the leaders of nearly all nations will meet in Glasgow for a critical round of climate negotiations. These leaders must bear in mind that global emissions have increased significantly since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Notwithstanding their many differences, national leaders must agree to far stricter limitations on greenhouse gas emissions than were agreed upon in Paris, to be shared among all nations, with the largest emitting nations having the greatest responsibility for cutbacks.

Some meaningful transfers of resources, from wealthier nations to those less developed, will also be needed to help developing countries avoid the environmentally harmful errors that wealthier nations have made since the dawn of the industrial revolution. These resource transfers must include clean technology for generating energy and operating industries in addition to grants of funds to be used to protect the environment.

Within the United States, much change is also needed. Our nation must once again use its continuing influence abroad to encourage effective climate-related reforms. The U.S. had an active behind-the-scenes role in the arduous negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement. Much more such quiet, determined diplomacy is needed in Glasgow and thereafter. Beyond this, the United States must set a good example for other nations by meeting its own climate responsibilities. Legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in a direct and forthright manner is long overdue. Moreover, mitigating climate change must be a government-wide priority and not the province of EPA and the Department of Interior alone. There is also a great need for federal financial aid to state and local governments to combat climate change.

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